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   For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

       

      The Apostle Paul was the first and indeed greatest Christian theologian. His profound theological reflection, his sensitive grappling with all too real human problems, his outspoken attitude and style and his divine pastoral insights have long fascinated, endeared readers of The Holy Bible. The above Scripture, from Paul in his loving letter to the saints at Philippi probably comes as close as any of his utterances to summarizing Paul's philosophy, indeed life.

 

                                       

                        Paul's Suffering for Christ

        While Christians today live in relative peace and harmony with their neighbors, regardless of varying religious convictions, this was absolutely not the case for the early Church and the early Apostles of Jesus. In this context, let us look at the suffering the Apostle Paul suffered for his conviction that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the Risen Lord, the Messiah. While Paul counted all his suffering, a blessing, a communion with Christ, he nevertheless makes a point of telling the Church at Corinth about most of his trials and tribulations in his Second Letter to them. Let's take a look at what one had to endure to be called a Christian.

 

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2Cr 11:22   Are they Hebrews? so [am] I. Are they Israelites? so [am] I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so [am] I.
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2Cr 11:23   Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I [am] more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.
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2Cr 11:24   Of the Jews five times received I forty [stripes] save one.
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2Cr 11:25   Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
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2Cr 11:26   [In] journeyings often, [in] perils of waters, [in] perils of robbers, [in] perils by [mine own] countrymen, [in] perils by the heathen, [in] perils in the city, [in] perils in the wilderness, [in] perils in the sea, [in] perils among false brethren;
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2Cr 11:27   In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
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2Cr 11:28   Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.
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2Cr 11:29   Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?
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2Cr 11:30   If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.
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2Cr 11:31   The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.
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2Cr 11:32   In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me:
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2Cr 11:33   And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.

 

    Paul makes it clear in a few verses preceding the above Scripture, that Christ would not boast in this manner, telling of his afflictions, but Paul feels constrained, knowing of all the false teachers, prophets, and other religious impostors boastings and its affect on the people, to tell the Corinthians how he, a man of God, matches the claims of all false apostles.

    In our text above, very reluctantly, and after several protests concerning the foolishness of having to do it at all, Paul begins to boast of his experiences as a servant of Christ. Let's take a closer look at what Paul had to say, as we study each of the above Scriptures in more detail:

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Paul makes it clear that he is a direct descendent of Abraham with the claim of the false apostles being that that they were Jews who were superior to the Jews and Gentiles of Corinth. It is Paul's contention by his own example and life that no one in serving the Lord is better than anyone else.

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Further, Paul refutes the claims of the false prophets that they are even servants of Christ. Indeed, the consideration of the nature of his ministry and its cost to him in suffering will show that he is more Christ's servant than any or all of them.

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When Paul says, 'often in danger of death', he means this literally, for the sufferings he mentions here and in the verses following were indeed life-threatening. In fact, as you will see following, the stoning that Paul received some scholars believe actually killed him; then, he was raised from the dead, and that is the subject of the 'Vision' Paul recounts in Chapter 12: 1-5.

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Eight floggings are mentioned here, five at the hands of the Jews and three at the hands of the Romans, who used rods; these beatings by the Romans took place despite the fact that Paul, being a Roman citizen, was legally protected from such beatings. The 'forty stripes minus one' was instituted to avoid breaking the Law's limitation as recorded in Deuteronomy 25:3.

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Paul indicates that he was stoned. Stoning was a form of Jewish execution. People who were condemned to be stoned, were indeed condemned to death. The stoning continued until the person was dead, or believed to be dead. If one looks back in Acts 14:19 which tells of Paul's stoning, we see that the Jews, '...having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul, and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.' Clearly, there were perhaps hundreds of people stoning Paul and kept stoning until they believed him to be dead. However, the very next Scripture indicates: 'However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.' Many scholars believe that Paul was describing this near death experience in 2 Corinthians 12:2-5. It is possible that when Paul rose up and went into the city, he was actually raised from the dead. At the very least, he was miraculously healed.

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Paul continues to list his afflictions and perils, including shipwrecks, actually stranded in the ocean, robbed, hunger and thirst, no adequate clothing, and many other things which he does not list here. Paul was in constant danger and hardship almost daily.

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Lastly, Paul makes the important point of his concern for all the Churches, not just Corinth. He had a deep association and identification with any and all the Churches. So closely did Paul identify himself with them that he felt the weakness of any member as his own weakness. If anyone was led into sin, Paul himself burned with indignation against the person responsible but also experienced the shame of the offense and longed for the restoration of the one who had stumbled. He cared.

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Rather than boasting of his own strength and looking with contempt on those who are weak or who stumble, Paul identifies with them in their hurt.

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Finally, Paul makes it clear his weakness opens the way for him to experience the superabundant strength of God's grace. Therefore, his boasting in its entirety, unlike that of the false prophets, is not in what he has done but in what God has done.

 

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